Audio Quick Take: 7 Questions Every CMO Wants to Ask Google – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM THINK WITH GOOGLE

“What’s fascinating is that everything about how people interact with brands and buy has changed.” Tara Walpert Levy, VP of Agency and Brand Solutions at Google

Welcome to the Quick Take with Think with Google, where we ask Google executives the questions every business leader wants answered. In our first episode, Angelia Herrin, HBR editor of special projects and research, interviews Tara Walpert Levy, VP of agency and brand solutions at Google, on everything from new consumer behavior to growth opportunities for brands.

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Angelia Herrin, HBR
Welcome to the Quick Take. Today, we are introducing a series of conversations between Harvard Business Review and Think with Google, where we ask Google executives the questions every business leader wants answers to. I’m Angelia Herrin, editor for special projects and research at HBR. And we’re talking to Tara Walpert Levy, vice president for agency and brand solutions at Google. Tara, thanks so much for joining us today.

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
Tara, as someone who works with and advises CMOs and CEOs, what are the most common questions you’re getting? What do they want to know?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Well, typically, all executives are asking the question they’ve always asked, which is how to drive growth in the current environment. I think what’s interesting right now is that with the incredible technology innovation that’s taken place across all industries, we’re seeing such big shifts in consumer behavior. You know, our Millennials and Gen Z are behaving in some fundamentally different ways than the Boomers before them. And seeing so much more competition in the environment from new entrants, as the access to tools and technology and the ability to scale a business have democratized that, all of a sudden, traditional businesses really need to think quite hard about both what risk is created by technology disruption and, potentially more importantly, what a huge opportunity it is for them, both as a company and for their executives.

So, that often will lead them to think, “Where is the future of technology going, and how do I think about evolving my C-suite as a result?” Meaning, for example, do we have the right balance between the CMO and the CIO, particularly as there are new issues emerging around data or privacy? Are we thinking correctly about how to balance the interest of the CMO and the CFO around the cost and effectiveness of different media options? And how do they really think about the application of technology across the entire organization?

I spend a lot of my time on customer-focused functions, marketing, customer service, products, etc., but if I’m a CEO, I also am looking quite heavily at finance, manufacturing—really every part of my business.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
You mentioned changes in consumer behavior. What are the most important changes you’re seeing from a marketing standpoint?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
What’s fascinating is that everything about how people interact with brands and buy has changed. It hasn’t changed who people are; it just taps into their fundamental characteristics in a really different way when it comes to behavior. So people’s curiosity now plays out in a different way in terms of how they research products, right? I mean, once, you would have walked into a store, looked at some toothbrushes, had some brand impressions in your head and bought a toothbrush. People are now researching everything. There is extensive research on which kind of toothbrush to buy.

I think also the level of demand and expectation for brands has gone up. As people are living in a world where they get whatever content or experience they want, when they want it, how they want it, that expectation for brands becomes more dramatic as well. And then, fundamentally, people are impatient. They want everything right now. I mean, it amazes me that over half the visits to a mobile website are abandoned because it takes more than three seconds to load the site. Right, three seconds—you would think people could wait four seconds. But I know from my own experience, when you’re sitting there watching the site load, no, actually, we won’t.

And so I think the challenge for businesses is that a lot of these shifts are happening in really small increments, and they can almost go unnoticed. And that’s why the data is so important, to be able to see the trends as they’re emerging and decide as a business what to do about it. Which is something that becomes more of an ongoing real-time activity rather than a silver bullet. CMOs or CEOs will often ask me, what’s the one thing I should do? And honestly, the one thing to do is to be engaging on a much more regular basis with data and insights so you can be able to adapt on the fly. But that’s not the easy answer I know a lot of folks look for.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
You’re talking about a lot of change and a lot of challenges. Where do you see the growth opportunity?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Well, there is huge growth opportunity, because think about it—you now have an ability, as a brand or as a company, to be with people 24/7, to be a part of their fundamental daily lives, whereas historically you were much more arm’s length. And so I think that’s a very big opportunity. It just means as an executive team, you really need to bring an open mind to your vision and a relentless pursuit of the “why” you’re going to make any of the changes that you decide to make.

One of the big risks around technology is that people can get a little bit distracted sometimes by shiny objects. But if you’re really focused on the fundamentals of your business and why consumers are behaving the way they are, I think there’s a big opportunity, particularly in marketing, to leverage your partners and your customers to be much more fundamental to who they are and to be much more relevant to what they’re interested in at any particular moment of time.

So if you’re a restaurant company, and you’re able to be there when someone’s sort of flipping around, like, “Oh, I’m hungry, what might I like, where might I go, how do I do it quickly?” It’s the ability to provide relevant information, convenience, right—think about how much you love being able to speak a coffee order into a smartphone and then walk into Starbucks and five minutes later it’s waiting and ready to go. That kind of routine act can become so embedded in someone’s life in a way that makes the brand and the business more important than they ever have been before. This is just an example of the kind of opportunity that’s out there for businesses.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
Well, talking about technology platforms, what do you think the future holds, and what do you think executives ought to be looking for?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Well, there are a couple of key trends, I think. One is that machine learning is already democratized, and it’s only going to be more so, which means that all of these powerful technology capabilities that used to be available to only a few companies are now available to any business. So there’s going to be significantly more competition.

I think the use of data will only continue to be more important, but we’re living in a privacy-first world, and I think making sure that companies are thinking from top to bottom about how they secure, and privacy, protect and manner to use data to better serve their customers is really important.

And then, I think thinking about new ways that customers are interacting, right. We used to be able to connect with people through a mass message in Must See TV on a Thursday night, and today, the whole notion of primetime viewing has become intensely personal. People are connecting either through voice or by viewing, or by texting, or by searching through their mobile phones, their home devices, throughout the entire day. And thinking about how to be helpful to people when they’re in that mode is critical for brands.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
What sort of talent do you think is required to make these new approaches work? When you think about whom people ought to be hiring, what they ought to be developing, what kind of skills are critical now?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Well, particularly in marketing, if you think about the impact of automation, what that means is there’s an ability to essentially outsource to machines the lower-value, high-frequency, very repeatable tasks in order to enable your team to focus on much higher-value work, which should be exciting for them and exciting for the team. It also means you need folks who are really capable of thinking strategically and being flexible. That agility is going to be really important because the consumer trends and the technical platforms all continue to change so rapidly that you want people who really can grow with and evolve expertise based on that.

It’s also an interesting angle to think about when you think about how you organize those capabilities. Where do you build in-house, what are the things that are really strategically core to your brand? And where do you want to partner with an agency or with a consulting organization or whomever, because they’re constantly on the cutting edge of the latest evolution that’s happening in the industry?

And then lastly, I think there’s an element of culture, which is critical in terms of making sure that your teams are rooted in data and experimentation. That they’re trying something, looking at the data, iterating, and trying it again. We don’t see that as how many corporate cultures work today. Even though a number say that they will. And it really requires people who are just extensively comfortable with that approach and have a learning mindset. So they know they don’t know it all, but they also know that they’re learning every day.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
When you say think more broadly than marketing, what do you think leaders need to be thinking about or doing today that perhaps wasn’t part of the equation for leaders five or ten years ago?

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Well, I think—as I alluded to earlier—that irrespective of what function you sit in, there’s an imperative for every company and every function to be a data company and to be a technology company. And I really can’t stress those points enough. I think data and technology as drivers of competitive advantage have never been more important. And I think one other area that pops out as particularly interesting here is the value of diversity. I think in addition to being the right thing to do, there’s been an overwhelming amount of data that shows that diverse teams, in terms of background and perspectives, deliver better results. And part of that, I think, is because of what they bring to the table in a world that is constantly changing. And so I think embracing the imperatives around data, technology, and diversity are just critical for companies and leaderships to grow.

Angelia Herrin, HBR
Tara, this has been a great discussion. Thanks so much for talking with the Quick Take today.

Tara Walpert Levy, Think with Google
Thanks for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.

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